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Sweet treats become a weapon in the battle against childhood cancer.
Like Goliath’s David, Gretchen Witt is facing a giant and powerful adversary—but unlike the biblical hero, Gretchen isn’t armed with a slingshot. Instead, she’s waging her battle with an army of what she calls “Good Cookies.”
Gretchen and her husband, Larry, are co-founders of the nonprofit foundation Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. The inspiration for the organization came when their son Liam had neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system.
Watching Liam battle cancer made Gretchen determined to do something.
“Learning that pediatric cancer kills more children than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, asthma and juvenile diabetes combined was shocking to me,” she says. “How could I sleep at night if I didn’t at least try to do something to help?”
The organization raises awareness while helping support the research of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I am honored when a patient’s family gets involved, because they know the pain of pediatric cancer, but if I can get someone interested who has no connection to childhood cancer, it means we’re getting the word out to a broader audience,” Gretchen says.
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer began in 2007 with Gretchen’s idea to host a larger-than-life cookie sale, selling 96,000 cookies. The organization blossomed by offering gourmet cookies and gifts as well as by inspiring individuals to host bake sales and fundraisers. To date, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has granted nearly $4 million to St. Jude and other institutions for pediatric cancer research.
So, why cookies?
“We wanted a concept that gives everyone a simple way to join the fight, and who doesn’t love cookies?” Gretchen says. “Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has become much more about the people, the Good Cookies, fighting for improved treatments for children every day.”
The organization’s Medical Advisory Board has awarded St. Jude three sizeable grants for research targeting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma. The board identifies critical research needs across 12 distinct types of pediatric cancers to help bring the most promising therapies to clinic as quickly as possible.
Gretchen says she feels a connection to St. Jude founder Danny Thomas. “It’s inspiring how he prayed to St. Jude and really put his heart out there to take action,” she says.
Liam Witt lost his battle with neuroblastoma in January of 2011 at age 6. The Witts honor his memory by continuing their fight through the funding of lifesaving work like that of St. Jude.
“St. Jude is the epitome of what’s right in the world of pediatric cancer,” Gretchen says. “It is truly focused on the well-being of the whole family.”
Gretchen is modest about all that her organization has accomplished, saying, “Baking 96,000 cookies is nothing compared to what Liam went through.” Her goal, she says, is to help people understand that if she can fight cancer with cookies, they can do something, too. “I just want people to be Good Cookies. I want them to care about this cause and realize that there is something they can do about it.”
Abridged from Promise, Spring 2013